on March 26, 2003 by Susan Green
   As an exposé, "Vajont" maintains suspense even though the outcome is inevitable. This much is known about the events of October 9, 1963: The world's tallest hydroelectric dam fostered a landslide in the neighboring Dolomite Mountains that sent a thunderous wave of water spewing from the man-made lake below. More than 2,000 people were killed in five surrounding villages. The disaster, though sudden, was a long time coming.

   In his film about this shameful chapter in Italian history--adapted from a book by a crusading journalist--Renzo Martinelli depicts the greedy intransigence that drives the flawed construction project. The chief engineers, Semenza (Michel Serrault) and Biadene (Daniel Auteuil), ignore warnings and falsify negative reports to make them appear favorable. Corrupt government officials look the other way. Mount Toc, which means "rotten or crumbly," is notoriously unstable. Many locals, including a newlywed surveyor named Olmo (Leo Gullotta), are in denial because the dam has provided lucrative jobs. Investigative stories by reporter Clementina Merlin (Laura Morante), the one person alarmed enough to make a fuss, are dismissed: She writes for a Communist, and therefore anti-capitalist, newspaper.

   Martinelli combines a neo-realist ambiance with spectacular special effects to document the widespread destruction. Despite the magnitude of the calamity, he manages to avoid caricatures. Heroes, victims and villains are three-dimensional, despite the fact that the bad guys value profits over people. To borrow a tagline from Ronald Reagan's pre-presidential pitch for General Electric during the same period, progress is their most important product. Starring Daniel Auteuil, Michel Serrault, Laura Morante, Leo Gullotta, Anita Caprioli, Jorge Perugorria and Philippe Leroy. Directed by Renzo Martinelli. Written by Renzo Martinelli and Pietro Calderoni. Produced by Renzo Martinelli. No distributor set. Historical drama. Italian-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 115 min

Tags: communist, Daniel Auteuil, Michel Serrault, Laura Morante, Leo Gullotta, Anita Caprioli, Jorge Perugorria, Philippe Leroy, Renzo Martinelli, foreign, historical, Italian, disaster, flood, adaptation

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